Port-Salut (pronounced PORE-sah-LOO) is a semisoft, velvety French cheese with a mellow, sweet-and-savory flavor. Perhaps the first cheese made from pasteurized cow's milk, Port-Salut originated in the Loire Valley, in a Trappist monastery in the Brittany region of France, during the middle of the 19th century. Most modern versions of Port-Salut, now produced primarily in large corporate plants, taste slightly tangy, similar to American-made Monterey Jack.
- Origin: Trappist monastery in Brittany, France
- Source: Pasteurized cow's milk
- Texture: Creamy
- Aging: 60 days
What Is Port-Salut?
Small producers around the Loire Valley still make Port-Salut in the old style, but many modern versions come out of large cheese factories, making them a bit more nondescript. Traditionally produced Port-Salut tends to develop a mushroomy, ripe aroma as it matures. Generally aged for about 60 days in 5-pound disks, the cheese develops a signature orange rind and smooth, pale yellow paste. In the United States, imported Port-Salut more closely resembles the traditional cheese even though it may come from a large dairy. American imitations tend to be less flavorful, with a wax covering instead of a natural rind.
How Port-Salut Is Made
In the mid-1800s, Trappist monks first made Port-Salut, naming it after their abbey Notre Dame du Port du Salut in Entrammes, Brittany. Like many monastery cheeses, Port-Salut was made for personal consumption and guests of the monks. Eventually, they began selling the cheese and registered Port-Salut as a tradename. The monks washed the aging cheese in brine, giving it a fuller flavor and encasing it in a natural orange rind.
In the 1950s, the monks sold the rights to a large dairy, and the name became the trademark of the Société Anonyme des Fermiers Réunis (S.A.F.R.) for Saint-Paulin. This generic spin-off of the original Port-Salut may be more widely available, but it lacks the distinctive savory flavor of a traditional Port-Salut.
Cheeses labeled as Port-Salut and Saint-Paulin can be used interchangeably in most cases, and you can generally find them at well-stocked grocery stores. The fuller-flavored Danish version of Port-Salut, called Esrom, has a more pungent aroma and holey paste, but it melts comparatively well. Look for Esrom at specialty cheese shops, where it comes in foil-wrapped wedges. Havarti, Muenster, and Monterey Jack also make acceptable substitutes if a recipe specifies Port-Salut.
Port-Salut is frequently served with fruit and crackers. With a lower price point than most artisanal cheeses, Port-Salut makes an economical filler on a cheese platter, usually cut into cubes. Port-Salut also melts easily, making it a good choice for a Mornay sauce or a grilled cheese sandwich. Try it sliced on a baguette, shredded onto pizza, or in fondue.
French Port-Salut can be found in most cheese shops and many grocery stores, or online.
Port-Salut usually comes in a sealed protective wrapper or wax covering, and it keeps in the refrigerator this way for a week or two. Once you open the store packaging, it's best eaten within a few days. You can store any leftover hunks wrapped in parchment or butcher paper inside a zip-lock plastic food storage bag or airtight container—in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and in the freezer for up to three months. The texture changes as it thaws, though, so for best results, use it melted rather than on a cheese plate or otherwise fresh.
Port-Salut's mild flavor and good melting quality make it an easy cheese to use in almost any recipe calling for mild melted cheese such as Monterey Jack, American, or havarti.
Can You Eat the Rind?
The bright orange rind on a traditionally produced Port-Salut comes from the process of washing it with brine, making it edible. But many of the more widely available factory-produced versions skip that step, wrapping the cheese in cloth or a thin layer of inedible wax to protect it during distribution.